Posts Tagged bladen nature reserve

Bladen Nature Reserve Field Trip for Students

BNR Management Zones

The Bladen Nature Reserve is one of the most pristine areas and has the highest level of protection in Belize. Ya’axché organized field trips for primary school students from buffering communities and also for high school students, but it was not a regular field trip, it was to educate young students about the Bladen Nature Reserve.

By law, the Bladen Nature Reserve allows only two things to happen inside its boundaries which are research and education. The reserve is divided into two zones, a natural environment zone and a preservation zone. In the natural environment zone only research and education may occur but in the preservation zone no one is regularly permitted to engage in any activity. The Bladen Nature Reserve is a no take protected area.

The Bladen River is the river that runs north-easterly through the nature reserve with is also classified as the mother of the Monkey River Watershed which feeds into nearby rivers and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.  

On March 30th 2010 rangers along with teachers from Medina Bank, Indian Creek, and Golden Stream primary schools and Ya’axché volunteers took 49 students and on March 31st 52 students into the nature reserve. Not only were students given the opportunity to explore, but the trip also provided an opportunity for the rangers to practice their strategies of communication, as rangers are look at by Ya’axché as local teachers and ambassadors of Ya’axché who engage in hands-on environmental education. The ranger had open discussions with the children to better understand the roles that rangers play to manage such a huge area with rich biodiversity.

Through this practical adventure, the elementary students were able to observe the pristine and invaluable resources of the nature reserve. This activity directly involved the future decision makers of the three buffer communities, hopefully influencing their relationship with managing the communities natural resources sustainably.

Ya'axche ranger Explaining the importance of pristine rivers

Various situations encountered within the nature reserve were used as “teachable moments” to relate to problems posed to it. The rustic road entrance was used to illustrate the likely hood of impacts and threats posed not only by the surrounding communities but by anyone since it is accessible.  The Pine Savannah and the boundary line was used to discuss prescribed burning to prevent the spread of wild fires from Pine Savannahs. Rangers also talked about nutrient cycles, forest structure, pollution and littering, erosion control, seed dispersion, healthy water systems and the importance of wildlife.

Students were brought to the Blue Pool to show the importance and beauty of pristine waters which affect reefs because of their interconnectivity.

Through these field trips Ya’axché focused on educating the teachers and the future decision makers – students, about the value of effectively managed community natural resources. By spending time within the most pristinely conserved area of the Toledo District, the students and educators were able to observe the interconnectedness between their use of resources outside the nature reserve and what happens within Bladen Nature Reserve.

On April 1st 2010 26 high school students attended the field trip, with a Ya’axché  ranger and Education Outreach Officer. Ya’axché hopes to enable the students to become stewards of conservation in their communities, and give them training and skills they need to continue on in the path of environmental education.


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Fire Training for Ya’axché Rangers and Southern Belize Fire Working Group

Ya'axche Ranger at Fire Training

On February 27th and 28th 2010 Ya’axché rangers and other members of the Southern Belize Fire Working Group benefited from a fire management training held at Golden Stream Field Centre, Bladen Nature Reserve and Payne’s Creek National Park. The training was facilitated by experts with extensive experience in fire management: TIDE’s Mario Muschamp and Mr. Oswaldo Sabido. The training focused on ecological concepts, ecosystems, fire classification, fire hazards and management.

On the first day participants were given theoretical training on the application of fire and fire management. Rangers understood the differences between fire influenced, fire dependent and fire independent ecosystems and which are fire dependent savannah and fire influenced broadleaf forest. They were also introduced to the different components of a fire regime for each of these ecosystems and the roles that humans play in influencing these regimes. The use of prescribed fire in protected natural areas, buffer zones and forest reserves was justified by describing the different types of burns, history of fire use, and the appropriate management response in each case.

Lessons were given to understand the basic concepts to understanding and defining fire, identifying the parts of the fire triangle and its role in combustion, understanding the four heat transfer mechanisms and how they influence fire behaviour and fire effects. Not only were they taught to understand but also to be able to explain the components of a wild-land fire, flame characteristics, and the concepts of rate of speed, intensity and total heat release.

Rangers also learned how principal elements of weather determine fire behaviour. Integral to this was the effect of cold fronts, the importance of atmospheric stability to fire behaviour and smoke dispersal during and after prescribed burns. Fire weather knowledge in planning and implementation of prescribed burns which is highly effective was passed on to the participants.

Not only were participants understanding the concepts and importance of fires but also taught fire breaks and ignition techniques to control fire. Rangers were able to differentiate between “soft” and “hard” lines, understand the principles of control line placement, width and accessibility.

Fire in the Fields

Ignition patterns and when and how they are used to produce desired fire effects before identifying ignition devices which can cause wildfires were discussed. Fuel characteristics and types and help to understand the concept of fuel size and dead fuel moisture time lag, real examples were used.

They were also taught contingencies, safety, suppression tactics and mop-up. They learned defining and identifying contingencies such as natural and man-made barriers to fire spread and also identifying potential hazards and the measures which may be taken to mitigate those hazards and suppression tactics for escaped prescribed burns taking into consideration good safe practice that is required in the mop-up process and above all be sure about the level of mop-up needed after different kinds of burns in different conditions.

On day two, February 28th 2010, theory met reality when the team headed to Bladen Nature Reserve. The rangers were prepared with protective clothing and briefed upon initial activities also giving them a lesson on correct usage and safety issues of all the equipment that would be used for the activity.

The team chopped down highly flammable palmetto using machetes since the relative humidity was too high as a precaution. A blackline was placed between two parcels of savannah land when the time seemed suitable. The rangers applied all their skills learned from the previous day of theory classes, ensuring that the fire never escaped. This was accomplished by wetting the periphery using bladder bags and hoses. The blackline was a success, using a combination of theory with the trail and error of practical fire fighting under constant supervision.

The mop-up which consisted of patrolling the periphery raking and flapping and wetting any still burning material and knocking over standing trees which was classified, not safe was conducted at the last stage of the training.

This experience was very valuable and interesting but also this training helped the rangers better understand the use and management of fire especially in Pine Savannahs.

Ya’axché would like to thank Mario Mushchamp of TIDE and Oswaldo Sabido for generously devoting their time to build capacity for protected area management in Southern Belize, and Wildlife Without Borders (WWB) of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for providing funds in order for this training to be accomplished.

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December 13th 2009 Hydro Dam Meeting

The following are extracts from the meeting at San Pedro Columbia regarding the Potential Hydro Dam in Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve.

Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee
San Pedro Columbia Village
Toledo District
Belize, C.A
December 14, 2009
San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District

Addressed to the Prime Minister of Belize Hon. Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Barrow Is Called To Stand In Solidarity With Belizeans And Ensure That Our Laws Are Respected.

Over 300 Belizeans from several communities in Toledo in attendance of a public meeting held on December 13, 2009 in San Pedro Columbia call upon the Prime Minister to act in the interest of Belizeans and our protected areas. Despite a number of requests to our area representative, Hon. Juan Coy and the Chief Forest Officer, Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Ltd. (BHD) none has dialogued with us.  As a result of the many unanswered questions in regards to unsustainable development specifically the proposed construction of a hydroelectric facility in our most pristine areas we formed the Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve Committee which sent a team to see firsthand what the development company was doing. The concerns, findings and recommendation generated from this Educational Field Visit and from community members were presented at this community meeting which started at 1:30 pm and concluded at 6:15 pm.  We found numerous violations reference BHD’s permit and the National Park System Act, which has resulted in the following resolution:

We hereby call upon the Government of Belize to REVOKE the concession agreement granted to Belize Hydro-electric Development and Management Ltd (BHD) on December 5, 2008 signed by the Prime Minister Hon. Dean O Barrow. This development activity, in one of Belize’s most pristine areas, threatens the ecological integrity of Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve along with the social well being of several communities in the Toledo District.  We will no longer accept the unsustainable use of our natural resources that are the lifeline of our society.

Furthermore, the Toledo Alcaldes Association convened an emergency meeting with all its Alcaldes on December 14th, 2009 and unanimously stood in solidarity with the resolution tabled at the San Pedro Columbia meeting held on December 13, 2009.

We request that the Government of Belize adhere and publicly respond to the December 13th 2009 public resolution. In the event that this is not addressed in its entirety we will have no other option but to engage in a peaceful protest to demand that our rights and the rights of our protected areas be fully respected and ask for the December 5th 2008 Concession Agreement to be REVOKED.

For more information please contact:
Nicanor Requena, Committee Chairman, San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo District
Belize, C.A, Cell number: 628-4252, email:

Central River in Bladen Nature Reserve


Good Afternoon Village Committee, Honourable Juan Coy,  Mr. Jeff, Villagers of Columbia and other invited guests.

Season Greetings to All

Ms Ash making her speech

I am a villager of San Pedro Columbia with concern about this hydro dam that they are planning to build between Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserves. These two places are reserves and it can be sold however a Nature Reserve  needs to be de-reserved if so be the case more so this is yet another process for BHD to undertake. In such cases the government should ask the people in the south, especially the villages of Columbia but instead taking the authority to do whatever they want is not right. This dam, if built, might not be beneficial to everyone but will affect many adversely, for sure. What are the consequences of this? Honourable Coy do you think you should listen to the people and do what they want? Yes people want jobs like you’ve said in the previous meeting but not in this form of development by the way, I should not say development but rather “destruction” because it will destroy our beautiful rivers and our environment. There are other means that we can help in getting jobs for people; for example getting funding for people to do farming, raising chickens, doing business like how Plenty Belize and SHI are doing.

Also I know this dam will produce electricity but ­let me tell you electricity is not that important like water which is the essential one for living and land which God made for everyone to enjoy. Let’s look at the past, our ancestors didn’t use electricity but they survive; also, an alternative way of getting electricity is through solar power which does not damage anything but it can also create jobs because someone can be trained to install and maintain it.

By the way I did a survey on the views of the people in my village about hydro dam, which they are planning to build. It resulted to 90% against the dam so this show us that the people don’t want it because of its negative impacts and we use the river for washing, drinking, bathing, recreational purposes, travelling also not only the villagers use it but people from PG and other areas within the country or outside come to enjoy the relaxation given by this river and bathe in the nice, cool, crystal water of this Columbia River.

I am asking you, Mr. Jeff, to please leave this village with its beauty, leave the two reserves alone. What else do you want? You have already built a dam in San Miguel, which is enough. This Esperanza river is the Central River so do you see what we don’t want to happen to us and the rest of the villages? Honourable Coy, can you please do what you think the people deserve? Remember when you wanted their support, they were there with you always and now that you are in position you wouldn’t even bother to look at us. Let me tell you something before you make a mistake, listen to your people do what they want and you will see what they will do in return. Think about your governance because I know you want it to last for 5 years perhaps more. So pass on this concern to the rest of the branch of government. I am asking for the people of Columbia to voice up your concerns; don’t be afraid everyone has rights. As for the future generation like myself let us help the villagers to get what we all want because we are the future of our family, village, and country so let us cooperate and stop this destruction from this dam and let us stop the xateros from the  illegal harvesting of xate. Come on we need to achieve our goals by stopping this.

As for the organization and other individuals strongly supporting this concern with the people of Columbia, I encourage you to continue because your assistance is needed and appreciated.

My name is Aliana Ash. I am a high-school student at TCC and I am 16 years old and if I, at the age of 16, can see that it is a mistake then it is should be clear to adults that this dam is a mistake, with this I say, THANK YOU!!!

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San Pedro Columbia Dedicated to Their Natural Resources

The village of San Pedro Columbians of Toledo, called a meeting last Sunday, November 1st to seek answers to questions surrounding the recent permits granted to Belize Hydroelectric Development Management Company Limited (BHD) as well as Xatéros in Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve.  

Villagers from Columbia reported that Guatemalans have been extracting large amounts of  Xaté leaves from the Columbia River Forest Reserve.   It was learned at the meeting that these Guatemalans are legally employed by Belizeans who hold a permit from the Forest Department to extract Xaté.  The villagers were generally displeased that they had not been consulted on these permits and mentioned that if Xaté is to be extracted in the Reserve that buffers their communities should be the ones to benefit.

The larger focus of the meeting was on BHD’s recent permit granted despite BHD’s illegal damages they inflicted on Columbia River Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve from bulldozing and clearing steep slopes.  Once again, villagers were displeased that they had not been consulted on the matter and were unified against any dam development in such a pristine area.  There were also concerns about BHD’s track record from the HydroMaya dam in San Miguel and their recent illegal development.

The meeting in San Pedro Columbia was very well attended with over 150 community members, the Department of Environment, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, the Police Department, the Belize Defence Force,  and Area Representative  Honorable Juan Coy. 

While Ya’axché is not anti-development or anti-dam, they do support transparent and open planning that will fairly weigh development and conservation needs of Belize and of course follow the due process of natural resource laws.  In fact, Ya’axché is leading an effort to develop a management plan for Columbia River Forest Reserve in order to systemically plan for environmentally-friendly development.   In order for this integrated planning to take place all parties need to be open to discussion and best practices should be utilized. 

Photos courtesy of Ya’axché Connservation Trust.



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Ya’axché Sets Its Eyes On New Geographical Focus- The Maya Golden Landscape (MGL)


Since its inception in 1998, Ya’axché has continuously grown in its remit and scope from the management of its private protected area, the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, to the comanagement of the Bladen Nature Reserve and subsequently the adoption of its Integrated Landscape Management (ILM) approach which focuses on the effective management of the whole landscapes, not just protected areas.

Initially this landscpe approach was based upon the Golden Stream Watershed. However, it was noted that this misdirected the focus of most stakeholders towards thinking solely about management, which is included in, but only a small component of ILM. Moreover, the Watershed’s boundaries did not fully encompass the focal area of Ya’axché’s work, and thereafter the term ‘Golden Stream Landscape’ was coined to demonstrate a larger area and the approach. However, Ya’axché noted that when using this, stakeholders tended to envisage a very limited area, close to the Golden Stream River or village and thereafter a new term was needed and thus, the ‘Maya Golden Landscape’ or MGL was born.


Selection of Boundaries

The boundaries of the MGL are based on the focus of Ya’axché’s work. For example, although marine issues play a minor role in Ya’axché’s work, a small coastal portion of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve has been included within the southern part of the MGL in order to reflect the interrelatedness of terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems. At the northernmost edge, the Maya Mountain Divide forms a natural border providing topographical, protected area and District boundaries. On the east, the margins are set according to ecosystem, generally avoiding the inclusion of savannahs which are generally not a priority within Ya’axché’s work. However, this has been extended to include a loop of the Bladen River branch of the Monkey River due to the influence that the river has on the Bladen Nature Reserve. The south-western boundaries of the MGL have been set to include many parcels of private lands forming the primary southern biological corridor for Belize, including those owned by Belize Lodge & Excursions, TIDE and John Spang. In the north-west, the MGL has included key biodiversity areas.


The Maya Golden Landscape

The Maya Golden Landscape (MGL)

What does this mean?

 The MGL forms the operational focal area of Ya’axché’s Integrated Landscape Management. Ya’axché aims to accomplish its goals of sustainable development in partnership with local land managers, including the Government of Belize, private landowners, communities and organizations.

It is important to note that this does not mean that Ya’axché is:

1.) trying to buy or take over community, private or any other land within the MGL   

2.) trying to control any person, community or organization within the MGL

3.) mandated to manage the area

4.) will not conduct activities outside of this area if it needs to.


How does this relate to other conceptual geographical areas?

The Maya Golden Landscape overlaps with parts of a number of other conceptual geographical areas.

* Maya Mountain Massif (MMM): As identified within the National Protected areas Policy and System Pln, the MMM is one of the three most important blocks of protected areas within reserves and the Bladen Nature Reserve. Although the MMM’s geographical scope is larger than the MGL, ILM within the MGL provides a larger thematic scope, covering the entire gamet of sustainable development of the area.

* Maya Mountain Marine Corridor (MMMC): Consisting of the Rio Grande, Middle, Golden Stream, Deep River, Punta Ycacos and Monkey River watersheds. the MMMC is an important concept coined by the Belize Center for Environmental Studies. This area now forms the focus of TIDE’s work, particularly as it relates to effective watershed mangement and the management of their three main programmes: Ya’axché works in close partnership with TIDE and is interested in ensuring the effective Conservation of the area’s biodiversity through the MMMC Conservation Action Strategy. Similarly, as with the MMM, efforts to manage the geographically larger MMMC are almost exclusively based on the conservation of biodiversity, as opposed to the thematically more diverse MGL’s ILM. An important point to note as well is that, although the MMMC contains almost all of the MGL, the north-western corner of the latter contaiing a very important biodiversity area lies outside of the MMMC.

* Golden Stream Watershed (GSW): This area is limited to the modelled hydrological boundaries of the Golden Stream Watershed, which are contained entirely within the MGL. As discussed in the rationale section, this concentrated stakeholder opinion on watershed management, rather than (integrated) landscape management.

* Golden Stream Landscape (GSL): See rationale for a discussion for why the GSL was changed to MGL.

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Amphibian Research in Bladen Nature Reserve

wildtracks_logo_narrowWe are pleased to report on some fascinating research that has taken place within Bladen Nature Reserve.  A recent trip by Paul Walker of Wildtracks uncovered some very interesting findings about the amphibian species (particularly frog) of Belize’s “crown jewel” of protected areas.

As it turns out, all vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered amphibians in Belize occur within the Maya Mountain Massif, of which Bladen Nature Reserve (BNR) forms part of a core protection zone.

New species?

New species?

The researchers uncovered what could likely be new species of rain forest amphibians.  According to Mr. Walker, the toad shares “features of the rainforest toad, as well as those of the large-crested toad that was recently found in Belize.” Current DNA analysis will determine whether or not the species is new to science.

New tree frog eggs?

New tree frog eggs?

At higher altitudes (~1000 m) along the main divide that forms the northern boundary of BNR the group discovered tree frog eggs which they suspect belong to a species of fringe-limbed tree frog.  If that’s true, “these eggs and the tadpoles that hatched from them will represent the first found for this species,” says Mr. Walker.

On a sadder note however, the group noticed undeniable signs of chytrid fungus, which cause a particularly nasty ailment affecting these species.  The fungus has been found in all other assessments in the Maya Mountain Massif and it is likely BNR has not gone unaffected.  The presence of two cane toads with missing digits all but confirmed this sad presumption.

Chytridiomycota on cane toad

Chytridiomycota on cane toad

This research is part of a nation-wide assessment effort under the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, being implemented by Conservation International.  Research teams visit specific sites to determine the relative abundance and health of amphibian species, as well as assess potential threats to their well being.

Quebrada de Oro-BNR-Final (Medium)The BNR assessment was conducted up the Quebrada de Oro branch of the Bladen River, right up to the Main Divide that forms the backbone of the 1.28 million acres of the Maya Mountains Massif. As the primary investigator, Paul Walker and team members Valentino Tzub, Rafael Tzub and Juan Ischim (all from San Jose, Toledo) conducted the rapid assessment in late January, guided by Dr. Steven Brewer who has conducted extensive botanical research in Bladen for several years. The team was accompanied by Ya’axche Protected Areas Manager, Nathaniel Miller, and two Ya’axche rangers.

For more reading, use the following link to read about how Agrochemical Contamination in Belize’s Maya Mountains [is] a Risk to Amphibians and Humans.

All photo credits: Paul Walker, Wildtracks
Map credit: Ya’axche

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Ya’axche Apprehends Illegal Xate Harvesters

Yesterday, the pristine Bladen Nature Reserve, the “jewel” in the crown of Belize’s terrestrial protected areas, was the site of a huge illegal xaté bust. Ya’axche forest rangers, in partnership with the Police and Forest Departments, arrested 16 xatéros and confiscated a huge quantity of leaves.

Xatéros with Illegal Xaté

Xatéros with Illegal Xaté

Apprehended in a region called “Matacion” between Trio Village and the Bladen Nature Reserve, the xatéros were quickly brought to the police station in Independence for questioning. Ya’axché rangers were tipped off to the xatéros’ presence when they approached the Bladen Nature Reserve Ranger Base on the morning of Monday, March 23, and presented a license to harvest xaté in surrounding Forest Reserves. The xatéros left after being informed that their license was not valid for Bladen Nature Reserve. However, a routine ranger patrol on Tuesday found signs of xaté collection within the protected area. Several square miles within Bladen Nature Reserve had been stripped of xaté, as well as a large area of the renowned Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. On Wednesday, March 25, two patrols, including a police officer, a Forest Officer and nine staff from Ya’axché set out to find the culprits. Around 1:00 pm they encountered the xatéros with a cache of 26 bales of xaté. Each bale held 70 bundles, totaling approximately 72,800 leaves harvested.

Stripped of All but One Leaf

Decimated Xaté

Healthy Xaté

Healthy Xaté

Although they had been operating under a valid license for extracting xaté within nearby protected areas, they had no right to be extracting within Bladen or Cockscomb. As such, the Forest Department reacted fast by questioning the concessionaire, from Cotton Tree village outside Belmopan, who admitted that some of his Guatemalan employees may have collected xaté outside of their concession.

Over 18,000 Plants Were Destroyed

Over 18,000 Plants Were Destroyed

Camp Along Bladen River Where Xate Was Bundled

Camp Along Bladen River Where Xate Was Bundled

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